Rewrite of my first chapter

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NbDawn

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I've posted the first chapter of my sci-fi here before, but I've made many improvements based on the feedback here and feedback from others. I can't remember the restrictions on the word count. This might be over it at 3,700 words (now corrected so this is only half the chapter). Please let me know what you think. I'm thinking of titling my book, StarFire Dragons: Book One of the Dragon Spawn Chronicles.


The front viewscreen of the bridge displayed an expansive stretch of deep black dotted with an array of shimmering constellations. The universe. So empty yet so full at the same time.

A heaviness settled deep within J.D.’s chest. In a way, the vastness of space reminded him of the forests of his home world. But instead of trees, there were stars. And where the trees sheltered a variety of nature’s creatures, the stars housed a multitude of different human cultures.

Back home, the trees brought serenity. Out here, there was nothing but discord.

Commander J.D. Hapker pushed down the hollowness rising within. There was a time when the prospect of visiting different worlds had made his heart soar. Though every terraformed world was outfitted with Earthen flora and fauna, each had developed their own unique aspects. A range of different landscapes promised a lifetime of adventure. And every human culture had evolved, or devolved, into new and fascinating facets of living.

The Kimpke incident changed his perspective. The exuberance of his youth was gone, replaced with a disillusionment as depressing as the blackness that surrounded him.

J.D. sucked in his breath, letting his expanding lungs stretch his back. There was no use thinking about this. He stood up and stepped off the central platform down to the half-moon section of work stations located at the front of the bridge. A few officers glanced at him without so much as a head nod or smile. They could have been intent on their work, but J.D. couldn’t help but feel the weight of their judgement. They knew about Kimpke. Everyone knew.

It was a mistake coming here. He should have declined the commission to serve on the Odyssey. He should have just resigned and gone back home. Heck, he probably never should have joined the Prontaean Alliance Fleet to begin with. His father was right. The galaxy wasn’t ready for the enlightened view of a Pholan Protector.

“Sir.” The communications officer’s tone struck through the lull of the starship bridge. “We’re getting a distress signal from outside the Hellana system.”

J.D.’s pensiveness cleared away as though he were coming out of the gloominess of a dark forest. He sat back down in the commander’s chair and focused on the new information scrolling across the bottom of the front viewscreen.

“From who?” His voice came out louder than intended and with an edge of tension to it. After thirty days of border patrol with absolutely no activity, he’d been hoping it would remain this way. Despite having a background in strategy and combat, the last thing he wanted was to engage in more violence.

Lt. Brenson held the side of his half-bald head into the earpiece designed specifically for the unique shape of his ears. “It’s coming from a Tredon ship, Sir.”

J.D.’s skin went cold and his gut twisted. The Tredons. Just the ones he’d been hoping never to meet. They were a technologically advanced race of humans but with the barbaric mentality and desire for domination of the ancient Earthen Huns. “It’s a trap. It’s got to be.”

He tapped the comm on his console. “Captain, you’re needed on the bridge.” Again. “Lt. Commander Bracht, to the bridge.”

Lt. Brenson turned to him with a tilted head and wrinkled forehead. “Sir, the signal translation says they’re being pursued by the Grapnes.”

J.D. pulled back. “Grapnes? Are you sure?”

Brenson’s brows went up. “Yes, Sir. Quite sure, Sir.”

J.D. leaned forward. His mouth fell slack as he read the translation Brenson posted on the viewscreen. This had to be the first. The galaxy’s fiercest warriors being chased by the vultures of the galaxy? It had to be a trick. “Locate the signal source and put it on the screen.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And verify their claim. Scan for another ship.”

Captain Robert Arden entered the bridge with a solid and solemn gait. He stepped onto the upper platform with an iron composure and settled in the chair beside him.

J.D. pulled back his shoulders and straightened his spine. He was the captain’s new chief commander and if he expected his career with the Prontaean Aliance to last much longer, he’d best look less like an owl at sunrise and more like a sparrow hawk at dawn.

“Report.”

The captain’s rough tone made J.D.’s stomach do a flip. He’d served under harsh leaders before, but Captain Arden gripped his career by its heart. A career he was no longer sure he wanted, but he’d rather it be his own choice. “A Tredon ship reports they’re being pursued by Grapnes, Captain.”

Captain Arden’s dark bushy brows twitched downward over his eyes, eyes as sharp and as blue as kyanite crystals. A frown appeared through the dark beard covering most of his face.

“I’ve called Lt. Commander Bracht,” J.D. added. His stomach did another somersault. He hated having to notify the man. Adding the Rabnoshk warrior to the bridge meant a battle was surely eminent. But it was protocol to alert the chief of security in such a case.

The captain acknowledged him with a slight head movement. “Do your scanners pick up a Grapne ship?” he asked Lt. Brenson.

The lieutenant reviewed the information on his console. “I do detect another ship, Sir.”

J.D. scrutinized the information on the viewscreen. The Tredons actually told the truth, but there must be more to it.

“Forward the coordinates to the helm.” Captain Arden’s tone was even and calm. “Helm, set a course to intercept.”

J.D.’s shoulders fell. As commander, he probably should have given that order before the captain arrived. But every captain demanded a different level of initiative from his commanding officers. And after three months with Captain Arden, he still had no idea what the man expected of him.

The hulking form of the chief of security entered the bridge with an uncompromising expression and a savage look enhanced by his unruly blonde hair.

J.D.’s chest hardened as Lt. Commander Bracht made his way to the tactical station on the captain’s other side. He’d never met a Tredon, but god help them all if they were anything like the Rabnoshk warriors.

Lt. Commander Bracht seemed to embody every unpleasant stereotype he’d ever heard—loud and abrasive, confrontational, limbs like tree trunks, and, most unsettling, front teeth filed to reveal a carnivorous snarl. Having a man like this serve as chief of security certainly didn’t help change J.D.’s misgivings about taking this commission.

The front viewscreen switched from the displayed data to a single digitized image. J.D. shoved the Rabnoshk man out of his mind and watched attentively as two dots moved rapidly towards a planet while the dot of their own ship still hung outside the solar system. "Something isn’t right."

The captain didn’t respond, not in sound or gesture. The man seemed as cool as ever.

J.D. suppressed the urge to fidget. He hadn’t exactly said anything helpful, but the captain’s utter lack of response was unsettling.

A year ago, he had the confidence to deal with anyone and any situation. He’d been the fleet’s most promising officer, moving up rapidly in the ranks and even receiving a medal. But ever since Kimpke…

He pushed his thoughts aside once more. He had more important things to deal with right now than the state of his career and whether he was making a bad impression on his new captain.

“Can you identify the makes of the two ships?” he asked the operations officer.

“It’s still a bit far but we’ll be in range shortly, Commander.” Lt. Chandly’s round face and short-cropped blond hair with a tuft sticking up in the back made him look too young to be an officer. But he was only half a year cycle younger than J.D. at thirty-five.

J.D. leaned forward in his chair. The dot representing the Odyssey was moving much too slow for his taste. He tapped his finger on the arm of his chair, adding to the other faint sounds of the ship—mechanical beeps, fingers tapping consoles, and a slight hum that he could always hear, and feel, when the Odyssey traveled over a certain speed.

His body itched. Though not much was happening yet, things had been too quiet for too long. A quick glance at the crew and he could tell most of them probably felt the same. Lt. Commander Bracht watched the viewscreen with a fierce focus. The operations officer hovered over his station. Lt. Brenson kept his hand to his earpiece and a hawkish gaze fixed on his console.

Captain Robert Arden, on the other hand, looked almost impassive. The man sat back in his chair with his hands relaxed on the arm rests. His face always appeared to be scowling, but perhaps it was because his brows were so prominent. As far as J.D. could tell, he seldom expressed any emotion. One could only guess at how many enemies he’d dealt with before his time on the Odyssey. The Tredons were just another variation.
 
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The Judge

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Oh yes, that was over the word count limit. Well over...

For another time the limit is 1500 words. I've edited this down to that. If you want people to read the rest, then you can put up more -- say another 1000 -- in a second thread in a few days' time, once you've had some feedback on this first extract, and preferably once you've made any necessary corrections based on that feedback.
 

NbDawn

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Oh yes, that was over the word count limit. Well over...

For another time the limit is 1500 words. I've edited this down to that. If you want people to read the rest, then you can put up more -- say another 1000 -- in a second thread in a few days' time, once you've had some feedback on this first extract, and preferably once you've made any necessary corrections based on that feedback.
Thanks. I knew there was a limit, but I couldn't remember what it was.
 

Toby Frost

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Other people will be better than me at going through it in detail, but the one big thing that leaps out at me is that I think you need to cut a big chunk of the opening. I would start the story at

“Sir.” The communications officer’s tone struck through the lull of the starship bridge. “We’re getting a distress signal from outside the Hellana system.”

Everything before this is just backstory and gets very close to the mistake of starting a book describing a character being bored. I also think there's a bit too much backstory being pushed in whenever characters do something, which reminds JD of something in the past or an aspect of the setting that the reader can be filled in on. However, it's early days yet, and these can probably be smoothed out and introduced more subtly in the editing process.
 

NbDawn

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Other people will be better than me at going through it in detail, but the one big thing that leaps out at me is that I think you need to cut a big chunk of the opening. I would start the story at

“Sir.” The communications officer’s tone struck through the lull of the starship bridge. “We’re getting a distress signal from outside the Hellana system.”

Everything before this is just backstory and gets very close to the mistake of starting a book describing a character being bored. I also think there's a bit too much backstory being pushed in whenever characters do something, which reminds JD of something in the past or an aspect of the setting that the reader can be filled in on. However, it's early days yet, and these can probably be smoothed out and introduced more subtly in the editing process.

OMG, that's so funny. It originally started that way but I had two people say I shouldn't start with dialog and I needed to set it up at least a little bit first. To each their own, I suppose. I'll consider cutting it down a little, at the very least. Thanks! :0)
 

Brian G Turner

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For me, the story didn't start until this line:

“Sir.” The communications officer’s tone struck through the lull of the starship bridge. “We’re getting a distress signal from outside the Hellana system.”

The reason being is that it's more ideal to start a story with something already happening, rather than in a lull just before, in order to grab a reader's attention.

However, you also need to learn to condense your prose - you spend a number of lines after the above quoted one effectively just treading water.

IMO you would certainly benefit from reading Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer, and applying some of the lessons there - it's a wonderfully concise but comprehensive guide to the technicalities of writing. See if that helps. :)
 

tinkerdan

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I don't so much mind the flashes of backstory parallel to what's happening. I've done this to great extent, though I can't say how well it's done for me.
But if you want to continue this way then I think that what's missing here is what you're trying to keep secret. And that's what happened at Kimpke.

They knew about Kimpke. Everyone knew.

That's everyone except the reader.

You need to use what happened and open it wider to the reader so they can feel his pain and understand why it might interfere with his work. Right now you are dancing around it all and though that creates an illusion of suspense I think if each flashback could contain something that begins to unfold the story of what happened then this would likely begin to give the reader some empathy for your character and it might be a bit more interesting to read..

Using it in parallel works when you can integrate it into the present as something that manages to move the story along every important piece of story is followed by a depth of feeling from the past to dredge up the comparison or contrast to the emotions today.

I sense that there is something deep in there that is not being utilized and my advice is that if you want to continue using this style of writing that you have to build the suspense a different way and just start telling the backstory while the present activities are happening.

Just remember that the longer you stay in the parallel mode the longer you hold off the really tense moments because those are not supposed to be interrupted by this kind of stuff.

Anyway that's just my opinion. I love stories where the characters head is a honeypot of past recrimination that get painted into the scene as it goes along. I just think yours needs some work, but if you like the style keep at it. Once perfected it will give me something more to read.
 

J Riff

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It reads along nicely, I stumbled a bit on 'fascinating facets' but the Tredons and Grapnes are good ET names, enough character developement, time to start the spacewar. *
 

NbDawn

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Thanks again! tinkerdan... very helpful. I'll think more on how to add a little more without overwhelming the parallel action. J Riff... I was wondering about some of the names. For some reason, I personally wasn't liking Tredon and was considering changing it.
 
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